Um, Actually… | August 30th, 2012

Welcome to the Como Murder Palace

Um, Actually…

Missives from and to the internet, delivered by a series of tubes.

Welcome, dear readers, to our Thursday feature – a letter column of horrors culled from our inboxes. There will be things that are real and decidedly unreal – but hopefully all content presented here will be entertaining.

That said, WE ARE LOOKING FOR LETTERS! We are hiding in your bushes, metaphorical or otherwise. We crave your sweet correspondence. Contact us by clicking on that handy contact button right above the site banner to save yourself from our sweet lips on your power bills.

Letters might be edited for space, but not for intent.

Thank you, internet.

———-

Brittanie (@britl) asks: Who would win in a fight: Garfield, Marmaduke or those kids from Family Circus?

James: The answer is very obviously Marmaduke, not just for size, but because his movie was more aggressively, hatefully terrible than anything the others have done.  You can just tell he wants to end all happiness, and in a fight against idiots and sloths, that’s a pretty big advantage.

Brandon: Definitely Marmaduke. As anyone who has read Josh Fruhlinger’s daily recap of comic strips, I know that the only thing Marmaduke loves more than eating people, is being the demon monster king of the human race.

———-

Britny continues: Unicorns: pretty great, or the greatest?

James: Um, actually, The Greatest is something else entirely.  So clearly, unicorns can only be pretty great.

Brandon: Cat Power is The Greatest, Ben Folds is The Luckiest, and James Leask is The Dream Stompin-est.

———-

Jay (@jayrunham asks): What makes you tear up like the Doctor in the rain?

Doctor WHAT

James: Doctor Who itself.  Or The West Wing.  Seriously, pick an episode in the first two seasons of that, put it on a television and there is a 50-60% chance I will be crying by the end.

Brandon: Danica’s sexy punches. Also: sadness.

———-

Jay continues: Would you rather kick a 3 foot-tall man or be kicked by a man with three feet?

James: I legitimately don’t know what this means.  Is this a sex thing?  Are you coming out about your fetish, Jay? Because this is a safe space.  No judgment here.  Shhh…shhh… it’s okay, big guy, you don’t have to be strong anymore.  You can just admit that “kick” is a really weird metaphor.  Shhhh… shhh…

Brandon: Does the three footed man have balance issues? Does he smell like peanut butter? I bet he smells like peanut butter. What was your question? I refuse to go back and read it on the grounds of shenanigans.

———-

Jay goes on: Are you guys coffee drinkers?

James: I am absolutely a coffee drinker.  I buy all my beans from artisan roaster (and current home of the best barista and latte in Canada, by competition) Transcend Coffee, and while I work up the courage to spend $150 to $300 on a new coffee maker, I currently grind my beans myself and use either a french press or the fancy new espresso machine I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I am a dude what likes his coffee.

Brandon: I recently had to wean myself off of daily coffee, because I would crash on the weekends pretty bad without it – thereby ruining my weekends. So now I drink coffee in more of a “break in case of emergency” deal. 

———

Ryan (@bakpakit) asks: What is your opinion of the $20,000 spent by Alberta Tourism for the spot on The Bachelor?

James: Oh jeez man I didn’t expect things to get political.  The answer is: I don’t know.  I am generally against unnecessary fat in budgets, but the reality is that $20,000 for a trip by reality TV show competitors sounds really quite bad, but is really small potatoes in effect.  Consider this: a recent expense claim scandal in the province’s health provider involving one person involved seventeen times the amount of money.  I’m not saying the $20,000 is good, but it’s not as bad by comparison.

However, and this is where the focus of the site itself comes in, it makes for easy outrage because it’s an appealing news story to grab headlines.  If there’s one thing people love to complain about regarding TV that’s not Two and a Half Men, it’s reality TV.  As a result, “We gave money to that trash!” is built-in outrage when viewed without the context of the Ministry’s overall budget and what other line items for promotion cost.  I’ve seen movies where they ran a major ad campaign for Travel Alberta during the pre-movie show, an expenditure that was almost certainly more expensive (it was a lengthy initiative by a major national chain) and of similarly questionable value (dudes in Canada already know about Alberta).  It’s just not sexy and it doesn’t appeal to people’s existing hatred of television they don’t watch anyway.

So I guess what I am saying is that I’m really not that concerned about it.

Brandon: I deal with this by believing that 100% of my personal tax dollars helped fund the making of Hobo with a Shotgun. I will continue to do things like this because really, other than voting, I could give a shit about stuff and things? Especially in such a way that if I’m yelling about a show that I don’t watch because Alberta Tourism spent some duckets on it, I’m wasting valuable time that I could use for productive things. So short answer? Shrug.

———-

Danica (@danicahere), Brandon’s much better half, asks: Will someone please tell Brandon he can’t answer a question I asked days ago in the middle of breakfast?

James: Finally, a real question!

Brandon, seriously.  At least preface that motherfucker with the appropriate context and requisite apology for waiting so long.  This is your partner here, you’ve gotta treat her right.  Otherwise, you’ll wind up alone and increasingly blase about it like me.

Friendship, everybody!

Brandon: I am, at the best of times, barely functional for the first hour of a day. I regret NOTHING!

———-

You guys, it’s time for another SCOTT WILLIAMS LIGHTNING ROUND!

Scott (@scottowiliams) asks: What is the best food?

James: I wish I could say something fancy here, but the truth is there are two answers, for meal and foodstuff.  

Meal: Eastern North Carolina-style (i.e. vinegar-based mop) pulled pork, with a crisp honey coleslaw on top and some chips, salads and pickles on the side.  Besides the fact that it smells heavenly and tastes delicious, it’s a great group meal.  It’s basically impossible to cook without cooking at least 4 pounds of it, and it’s a great summer-y, picnic-y thing to share with friends.

Foodstuff: Cheese.  I love it.  I could somewhat easily go vegetarian, but I would have real trouble going vegan because cheese is unquestionably the greatest food there is.  It can be soft and mild.  It can he hard and salty.  It can have maple syrup or toffee in it!  There is such a variety of flavours and textures in it, and there really isn’t a single one I don’t like.  It even makes apple pie better.  I realized this summer that I have never once turned down cheese in my life, and I don’t ever plan on starting.

Brandon: Lamb. Probably because you can’t really get much of it in Canada for a decent price, and I love the taste.

———-

Scott continues: What is the best place?

James: I love the ocean.  Coming from a landlocked province, there’s always been something mysterious about the sea, and I take every chance I can get to be near it.  A month ago, I swam in the Pacific for the first time in almost two decades, and it was a liberating, beautiful experience.  I love the smell.  I love the sights.  I love the motion.  I love the food.  If I could move anywhere tomorrow, it would be to the West Coast, and I would stare at the ocean for as long and as frequently as I could get away with.

Brandon: I’m pretty fond of Newcastle, Australia. Stayed there once during my time in a marching band. Beautiful, enchanting place. 

———-

Scott inquires: What is the best name?

James: Alistair (men).  Rachael (women).  Kennedy (surname).  Sorry, everybody else!

Brandon: Blade Stabworth.

———-

Scott rambles: What is the best invention?

James: This is the easiest question.  The answer, without any reservation, is the printing press.  Moreso than any other invention, it made the modern era of the world possible.  It made literacy something that wasn’t controlled by the upper classes, which created the very idea of upward mobility, a middle class and ultimately, modern government by the people.  It changed the face of religion.  It made communication and recording of ideas over long distances and periods of time possible, and was the precursor to every single form of mass entertainment that followed it.  When I used to ask coworkers this, many people would say the greatest invention is the computer.  They’re wrong; the computer, as amazing as it is, was only possible because the printing press opened the floodgates of literacy, politics, economics and media that the computer (and pretty much everything else in the modern world) used as its base.  The printing press is the most incredible thing in mankind’s history, bar none.

Brandon: Anything that runs on the tears of orphans?

———-

Scott asks, while pondering his terminal illness: What is the best idea?

James: See above (cheese, not the printing press).

Brandon: Buying a plot of land, building the front of a house (complete with porch) on that land, buying an old rocking chair, employing a make-up artist to make you look like an old man, and then sitting on the rocking chair, on the porch, in front of that front of a house, on top of that plot of land, so that you can yell at those fucking kids who have long boards.

———-

Scott moans: What is the best thing to do?

James: The best thing to do is go to a baseball game on a hot summer afternoon, have a hot dog and a few beers and enjoy the company of whoever you’re with in the company of an amazing pastime.  

Brandon: Not catch aaaalllllll the AIDS.

———-

Scott wonders: What is the best way?

James: Usually by slandering Brandon.

Brandon: Scott, the road that we walk on is paved in gold. It’s always summer, they never get cold. They never get hungry. They never get old and grey.

———-

Scott mumbles: Where do we go now? Where do we go? Where do we go now, ow ow ow, Sweet Child o Mine?

James: Down to wherever Duff McKagan and Buckethead collect their unemployment cheques.

Brandon: No.

———-

That’s it for the twenty-third installment of Um, Actually!  Check in every Thursday for a new batch of questions.  If you have anything you’d like answered, hit up our Contact page!  If you submit anything via Twitter – to @blogaboutcomics@leask or @soupytoasterson – remember to include the hashtag #UMACTUALLY so that we don’t lose it.  Remember: you can ask us anything.

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 35 – Midnight Piece of Ass

We're trouble.

You asked for it, so it’s here!  Uh… unless you didn’t.  Ask for it, that is.  It’s here anyways.  Wait, what is?  A new episode of Podcast! The Comics!  I probably should have led with that.

This episode is brought to you by Wizard’s Comics, home of the best deal on comics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Check out their website for a list of the week’s new releases and information on upcoming Magic, The Gathering tournaments, and watch their Twitter account for news and announcements about the shop and its wares.

Episode 35 – Midnight Piece of Ass

This week, the boys finish the first season of The Newsroom and things get even weirder than usual due to a combination of exhaustion and slapstick humour.  After a few derailing moments, the boys eventually discuss comics they’ve enjoyed recently, from gender-reversed Riverdale to Frank Castle not being the hero of his own book.  Finally, they discuss the issue of piracy.  In particular, James talks (and Brandon listens tiredly) about how while people should stop shoring up reasons to steal, a bigger issue in many ways is the content owners not making it so tempting to steal in the first place.

It should be noted that their James nor Brandon are educated or employed in this field.

Download the episode here or subscribe through iTunes.  If you want to subscribe the old-fashioned way, insert the following text into your audio program of choice (in iTunes, click “Advanced,” then click “Subscribe to Podcast”):

http://comicstheblog.libsyn.com/rss

You can also find all the episodes to date on Libsyn’s site here.

As always, check us out on on Twitter at @blogaboutcomics@leask & @soupytoasterson!

The Culture Hole, Episode 21: Journalism

The Culture Hole! For all your cultural orifice needs (logo adapted with love from http://emnla.deviantart.com/)

Episode 21: Journalism

A free press is a cornerstone of a successful democracy and a hallmark of our society.  Junior high platitudes aside, however, this is a relevant issue not just for issues of governance, but as the entertainment industry becomes larger and larger and the press corps around it keep pace, for everyone who reads an article on the Hollywood Reporter about their favourite TV series or on ComicsAlliance about their favourite comic book, whether it’s every day or just occasionally.  And because of that, it’s the reader’s responsibility to be constantly evaluative, with one key question never too far from their mind:

Is this publication doing a good job?

I doubt anyone is really ignorant of the criticisms of larger news outlets.  It’s easy to open up a copy of a newspaper or turn the channel on the TV to a 24-hour news network and see things to criticize.  It’s not hard to do the same with entertainment journalism, either; I remember hearing Brian Michael Bendis on John SiuntresWord Balloon podcast remarking on the state of comics journalism, commenting that if a reviewer used the word “I” six times or more in a piece that you could tell they needed a better editor.  For the record, that’s a rule I break frequently and flagrantly, but hey, I’m no journalist, probably the reason I haven’t written a news article in months.  It’s an admittedly poor excuse, but it’s one I stick by.  And look, that’s six.

Truth be told, I’m actually quite excited about the future of entertainment journalism as it has expanded with the increased role the internet plays in daily life.  Almost all of my information about comics, for example, comes from the internet and sites like ComicsAlliance, which offer unique viewpoints without having to be constrained by any particular format, all while still engaging in responsible journalism.  I’m encouraged by the Penny Arcade Report’s potential role in video game journalism, because of their focus on long form pieces instead of firing off reviews and news to meet buzz.  At its best, entertainment journalism is thoughtful and useful because of it.

Unfortunately, sometimes, it gives you an example of what exactly not to do.

On August 2nd, Kotaku published an opinion piece titled “Gaming’s Biggest Problem is That Nobody Wants to Talk.”  The author, Jason Schreier, basically has one primary point: video game developers and publishers should stop treating the media and its readers like the enemy and just be completely forthcoming about pretty much everything.

On its face, that idea makes a lot of sense.  I’m a big proponent of transparency in business and media, and the idea of getting more information in a friendlier fashion is certainly intriguing to that viewpoint.  However, pretty much every other sentence in the article after the third paragraph negates any potential goodwill by showing exactly why the gaming industry is right not to be as forthcoming as requested.  Because the rest of the article leads me to one conclusion: journalists like Schreier are the enemy.

Jerry Holkins at Penny Arcade wrote an interesting response to it, one that’s very worth reading because of how fundamentally kind it is to Schreier.  Of course, a piece that includes the line, “This is literally the speech and conception of a child,” might not seem kind; I’d argue it is for no other reason than central to that premise is that children eventually grow up.

The rest of Schreier’s piece is actually a list of very good examples, but to his role as enemy more than to the service he provides.  He lists off games and examples where every word or action from the industry is one to be potentially held against them years later.  This is literally a journalistic environment that gives out annual awards mocking unreleased games’ scheduling delays.  Why doesn’t SquareEnix give you answers about whether or not a game is still in development, Jason?  One logical answer is that delays are indicative of a troubled development and companies are understandably reticent to draw attention to it (or because you don’t issue press releases for bad things like delays unless you can possibly help it).  A related and no less logical answer is that because a simple, “We are experiencing delays,” said offhand in an interview, then becomes a front page article on a gaming website and the focus of a news cycle where they’d much rather talk about Kingdom Hearts.  He’s also flat-out wrong when he says that gaming is unique in this approach to journalism; if he thinks Hollywood works by telling journalists the unvarnished truth, I legitimately don’t know where he has gotten that information.  There’s literally an entire media sub-industry based around rumours and gossip in Hollywood because the industry itself doesn’t give all the answers to every question; the idea that it doesn’t exist is preposterous.

I get it – or at least I think I do.  It’s a journalist’s job to ask tough questions, and it can be frustrating to not get answers, even to ones that might not seem as loaded as you are.  That’s the job, and it sucks for things not to come easily just as it feels amazing to break a story.  But it’s silly to conflate journalistic responsibility with a subject’s obligation to give you exactly what you want.  Most likely, they’re not going to give an answer that makes them or their employer look bad if they can help it.  It could risk their job if they do, depending on who it is.  It’s then a journalist’s job to ask tough questions and coax truth out of the interviewee.  Piece together multiple partial answers to create a story.  That’s the job and what Schreier is complaining that his job isn’t easy enough.

Ultimately, what he is asking for is for people to give him scoops whenever he asks, and if that sounds childish, it’s because it is.  Schreier is asking for subjects to do his job for him, to just give him answers because he wants them, and he’s confused that with deserving them.   Why should any developer or publisher give him an answer just because he’s demanded one?

Schreier claims not to be the enemy.  He says that he just wants to help companies, which is either a lie or colossally lacking in self awareness.  You don’t get to write an article criticizing an entire industry and then get to just brush off your hands, hold them out and get a gift.  He says it’s a relationship, and that part is true; however, it’s a journalistic one, not a romantic one.  It’s not based on openness; it’s based on give and take, with a fundamental emphasis on trust.  If an interview subject gives you an honest answer, it’s because they trust you to treat it properly.  You don’t get trust by writing an article reminding everybody of all the dirty laundry you’re interested in and the fact that you’re willing to use it; you get trust by building a relationship, one contact at a time, and proving yourself to not have an agenda.  Schreier’s article is literally him telling the world what his agenda is, and his agenda is to get a shortcut with no obligation to treat it responsibly.  The article itself is evidence that he probably won’t treat it responsibly.   Insulting someone you’re interested in sounds an awful lot like the Mystery Method, not the actions of a responsible journalist.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say this.  Despite a brief stint at my university’s student paper and an online writing career rooted in more traditional sites, I’m not a journalist.  I don’t really plan on being one, either.  On a fundamental level, I don’t want to be ask the tough questions of interview subjects; I like being friendly with them, and that means talking about HBO’s Girls or bees, not delays and controversies.  Every so often, I stumble on some real emotion, and I’m grateful for it.  However, I get it from building a relationship that’s not a journalistic one.  I’m a kid who likes Ferguson’s approach to getting past PR buzzwords: friendliness.  I’d be a terrible journalist, but I appreciate the need for good ones.  Great journalism comes from hard work, not shortcuts and childish demands.  It’s not evidenced by Jason Schreier’s piece.  To the contrary, it gives a lot of credence to the idea that journalism is in trouble.  Let’s prove that idea wrong.  Support good journalists, maybe even be one.  I’d love to cheer you along, from my own weird sideline.  That’s probably too friendly, though.

You Read These With Your Eyes! | August 29th, 2012

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN SPECIAL EDITION HC. VOL 2 (Oni Press)

Courtney’s 10th anniversary in print continues with another volume of full colour comics!

Originally published in 2002, the Courtney Crumrin series has ran intermittantly over the years, first as a series of mini series, and later as an occasional graphic novella. This year, in order to celebrate her 10th anniversary, Oni Press commissioned a new full colour ongoing series, but has been going back through the old stories, republishing everything in full colour for the first time in immaculate and wonderful hardcover books. No expense has been spared on these babies, with a smattering of spot varnish, bevels and even a bookmark ribbon. Great to look at, and even better to read.

For first times readers, you can jump on with this volume if you must. Other great jumping on points would be the first hardcover collection, or the first issue of the new ongoing. Try it!

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #642 & VOL. 01 (Marvel Comics)

Finally! Marvel has been holding off on the swanky Journey Into Mystery collections for so long that the softcover editions are all hitting in a monthly release schedule. Which is good for those who don’t want to wait any longer to own physical copies of this wonderful series (people like myself). In addition to that, the book begins its wrap of the Loki/Kieron Gillen phase of its existance with the first part of the Everything Burns storyline that will jump back and forth from this book and Fraction’s Mighty Thor series. I wonder if things will work out okay, or if everything will… will… dammit, I forgot what I was going to say. Ah well.

LOCKE & KEY: GRINDHOUSE ONE-SHOT (IDW Publishing)

One of the best horror series in comics returns with another brilliant one-shot – this time in the style of old EC comics. Everything in the book, from the writing, to the art style, down to the lettering is done to emulate those old books, with a gorgeous looking spot-varnished cover, identifying it as a modern work of art. Joe Hill has done an amazing job with this series, as has his partner in crime Gabriel Rodriguez and I love the self-contained one shots they offer while we all patiently await the next instalment of the series proper. That said, the upcoming Omega series looks to live up to its name and bring the epic to a close… so you know, I guess we’ll just have to savour what we get.

PETER PANZERFAUST VOL. 01 (Image Comics)

Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins stunning re-imagining of Peter Pan during WWII hits some pretty high notes – and finally, you can catch up with the action before the second arc begins in September! This is one of those series that has legitimately brought tears to our eyes (shut up we’re just allergic to pollen) and should really be on all of your reading lists. Unless you’re a fan of Peter Pan being kind of a dick – because this is one of the very odd stories where he is not. So there’s that.

SIXTH GUN #24 (Oni Press)

And finally, a new arc for The Sixth Gun begins here, as we near the halfway point for the series. For those late to the party, The Sixth Gun is a great supernatural western filled with rich characters and huge, apocalyptic fight scenes that clamour in your head in surround sound as you read. It’s praises are sung by the likes of Matt Fraction, Warren Ellis, Rick Remender and the like… and rightfully so. If you like the sound of it, give this issue, or the first volume a look through at your local comic shop, or try the first issue for free on Comixology. Because you can do that.

These are five(ish) of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below. 

Speed Me Deadly: Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 7

I'm sure everything will work out for everyone!

[Ed. Note: Our friend, author and lapjacking enthusiast Andrea Speed, loves Breaking Bad.  In fact, she loves it so much that her enthusiasm convinced James to watch it, and now he’s a much sadder person because he watched it all over two weeks and has now realized how tenuous all of this life actually is.  Thanks, Andy!  So when Andy asked us if we’d want to publish her episode-by-episode thoughts on the show’s final season (the first half of which started airing on Sunday), we jumped at the chance. Son, you’d best believe there are spoilers.]

Breaking Bad, Episode 507 – Say My Name

This week’s penultimate episode made me think of Warren Zevon. Or, more correctly, part of one of his songs: “Send lawyers, guns, and money/ The shit has hit the fan”. They were all deployed in this episode. Did any work? Well, the gun, but in the way that guns always do. It never solves more problems than it causes. A gun in a mechanical catch .22.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This episode, Walt solidifies his “empire” and causes its eventual downfall, in one fell swoop. How? With hubris, of course, monstrous egotism and narcissism, leaving him blind to the motives of everyone around him, as he assumes everyone has his motives. This lack of empathy and insight costs him and will cost him big time. (No, I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of this magnificent flaw.)

The elegant machine is working at first, as Walt’s ballsy plan, to recruit Declan and his men into working as distributers for his fancy blue meth, works, and he manages to get Mike his retirement money too. Walt often lacks in humility and horse sense, but he doesn’t lack in balls.

And then it begins. He mentioned Jesse in his spiel to Declan, and when Jesse reminds him he’s still out, Walt dismisses him in a truly condescending way. Mike sees it, and knows damn well Walt is not going to let Jesse go that easily.

Eventually, Jesse does confront Walt about this, but this is where Walt’s inability to see beyond his own shit trips him up. He keeps appealing to Jesse using things that matter to Walt: excelling at something, being the best, making the most, and he doesn’t seem to notice how utterly appalled Jesse is by this line of appeal. Jesse doesn’t give a shit about any of this, and he’s starting to see that Walt is so wrapped up in himself, he has no idea who Jesse is at all. The Mr. White he’s come to depend on just might be a lie. (Gee, Jesse, has that finally occurred to you? Hold on to that anger, because it’s only going to get worse.)Walt then gets vicious, and Jesse storms out, even though Walt has told him if he leaves he gets nothing. Nothing except self-respect, humanity, the end of the madness, blah, blah, blah – that and five bucks will buy you a coffee, right Walt?

He wastes no time replacing Jesse with Todd, as a slow but eager helper. Too eager. I’m getting a really bad feeling about Todd, exacerbated by the fact that he didn’t even want to talk money until he got good at this. Um, Walt – that’s a red flag. I realize you have up your own ass, but that should have been a solid clue that something’s going on with this guy.

Meanwhile, Mike’s other lawyer has been delivering hush money to designated safe deposit boxes, keeping that machine running smoothly. The DEA close in on Mike, but the bug has kept him a step ahead of them, and they have nothing; less than nothing. Hank  finds himself ordered to get off the Fring case, which is just a waste of money and time. He agrees, but he’s a dog with a bone, and tells Gomez maybe he was ordered not to follow Mike, but no one said anything about not following his lawyer. And that’s where the wheels come off that machine.

Luckily (?), Walt is in Hank’s office, crying crocodile tears, all to remove the bug he placed, and he overhears Gomez and Hank talking about the lawyer flipping on Mike, giving him up. Walt calls Mike and warns him, just in the nick of time, but it forces Mike to abandon his granddaughter at the park, which just kills him. That money was all for her, after all.

Mike did allow for this possibility, and he has a bag full of necessities (fake passport, money, gun – and that gun, the first thing Walt saw when he opened the bag, was all the foreshadowing you needed to guess what came next) hidden at the airport, but there’s no way he can get it. He calls Saul, who has Jesse and Walt there, fretting, and Walt agrees to go get the bag and bring it to Mike.

After that, we all know what happens. Maybe the most heartbreaking thing is, at the end, Walter suddenly realizes he had no reason to kill Mike, save for wounded pride. It was a rash, pointless act, and one that will echo through the final episodes of this final season. For a man who prides himself on out thinking everyone, he lashed out emotionally, and all because Mike told him a truth he didn’t want to hear.

(Although I have to admit, with the two confronting one another, their bald scalps gleaming, I felt there could have been a mock Highlander moment: “There can only be ONE bald guy in this series!”)

Icarus is now falling to Earth, and he has no one to blame but himself. The only real question is, how many people is he going to take out on the way down?

Andy’s Line of the Episode:  There’s no choice here at all, is there? “Shut the fuck up. Let me die in peace.” And with that, Mike leaves the series as badass as he entered it, and rather cinematically too. A fitting farewell for a truly memorable character. And while I know Jesse will be devastated if he learns of his death, part of me kind of hopes he’ll avenge him.

C!TB’s Best of the Week | August 27th, 2012

It was a long, full weekend for us, which means we’ve got a lot to say about comics this week!  Tune in for some new pieces, some with feelings!  First, however, let’s all go through the comics we thought were the best last week.

COMICS RULE EVERYTHING AROUND ME

INVINCIBLE SHMINVINCIBLE

As we get closer and closer to the end of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca‘s Invincible Iron Man series, it’s harder and harder to recommend the book every month as something potentially interested parties should check out, because at this point that train has long since left the station.  This week’s issue, #523, is heavily dependent on the years of story before it.  With the ending in sight – or at least as in sight as it ever gets for a series that is definitely going to throw at least a couple more twists at readers before the end of the final issue – the series stopped being something curious readers could look into around a year and a half ago with Issue #500.1.  However, as the final pieces are being set for a giant ending, the series has never been more rewarding for readers who have stuck around.

While being forced to work for the Mandarin building machines that we’ve seen before in Tony’s dreams and in the future (Issue #500), the hero is setting up his own counterattack.  He’s been outplayed by his arch-foe for a couple of years.  The chips are down, and he’s turning his rogue’s gallery into accomplices in his plans.  While the action of the book is being taken care of by other characters, like Pepper Potts and Jim Rhodes, the most suspenseful and engaging parts are seeing Tony and the Mandarin engage in mental warfare.  It’s a testament to the skill of the creators that they can have Tony out of his suit for so long and still make him more dangerous than ever, while never slouching on doing right by one of the best supporting casts in superhero comics.  The number of balls in the air is not only impressive, but staggeringly so, and it’s all in the service of an endgame that’s being teased.

Invincible Iron Man is all about the long game.  The scenes between Ezekiel Stane and Tony, centred around their unlikely reunion as allies, is impactful because Zeke was the very first villain in the series.  We’ve seen Tony and Pepper come together romantically during “World’s Most Wanted,” and it’s this fraught history that makes Pepper’s new relationship so intriguing and surprisingly cheery for the readers.  Fraction combines these elements from his run with the character with classic ones, from the Mandarin as a villain to Tony playing Ho Yinsen to Zeke.  The series works because it’s such long-form comic storytelling done extremely well; the occasional jumping-on point has kept the series viable for new readers, but the longer you’ve been reading, the more you’ll get out of it.

Of course, the series isn’t just working towards an Iron Man/Mandarin confrontation; we all know Tony is going to come out on top in the short term, because he’s got a new series launching and killing the title character for good would be bad for business.  But remember, this is the long game.  Issue #500 showed a dystopic future where the weapons Tony is making for the Mandarin were still around, the Mandarin had won and Tony’s descendants were waging a war against him.  Even if Tony comes out ahead, there’s still that future to fight against.  This isn’t just about the end of this storyline; it’s about avoiding something catastrophic decades down the line, and there’s no guarantee Tony will do it; he could defeat the Mandarin this fall but still lose in the coming years.   But for Marvel’s foremost futurist, it’s the most suitable challenge he could possibly face.  Iconic stories are known as such because they reach something at the very core of the character.  Issue #523 is further evidence that, should they stick the landing, Fraction and Larroca are making a story that will stand among the best, because it’s so wrapped up in who Tony is and not just the suit he puts on.  For that, they’ve easily earned the Marathon Men Award.  (J)

LADY MAN LADIES

For those of you following along with the company’s trajectory lately, Archie Comics can get pretty strange. Just recently, in the pages of their top selling Life with Archie series, the ongoing dramas of Archie’s life with both Veronica and Betty devolved briefly into a CRISIS OF INFINITE ARCHIES, in which every form of Archie came together to with the help of a good Dilton Doiley to foil the evil Dilton Doiley.

Yeah, it was kind of a thing. But shortly after all that craziness, things went back to “normal” for the book – meaning melodrama aplenty, including the bestowment of cancer on one miss Cheryl Blossom.

Elsewhere in Riverdale, the gang has also recently had a team up with KISS, turned Veronica into a vampire for Betty to slay, AND early next year, they’ll be hanging with the class from GLEE. So yeah, strangeness abounds in Riverdale – but I don’t think it has ever been as weird as Archie #636 from this week, in which Sebrina’s cat Salem decides to cause a bit of miscief and switch the genders of pretty much everyone in Riverdale. Forget about the stark existential horror that is Archina. You haven’t seen anything quite like Dilton as a lady or “Joey and the Junkyard Dogs” (which made me wonder what Rachael Leigh Cook would look like as a dude, for which I will never ever forgive my brain for thinking of). That said, the story is quite amusing, and a good break from the regular Riverdale stories, of which they are still producing quite regularly (see most of their other books).

Thus we bestow this book the Rule 63 of the Internet Award for, uh… obvious reasons. (B)

Better than alllll the rest

It has been over a decade since I have seen The Rocketeer.  I barely remember anything about it; I’m pretty sure the Nazis are bad and that a man in a crazy jetpack getup fights them.  Or maybe the real Nazis are… inside of us?

Wait, that sounds wrong.

This is a weird first date.

Despite that lack of familiarity – I’ve never read any of the comics, either – one of the best things about The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1 last week was how none of that mattered.  There was certainly a sense of previous adventures having happened, but the comic was so successful at making an engrossing read that not knowing else didn’t even matter.  What was important was what was happening on the page.

Just like most comic readers weren’t actually around for the pulp adventure days that Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom is a loving homage to, it’s likely most comic readers weren’t around for the character’s comic origins, either.  Like me, it’s likely their first (or at least most notable) experience with Cliff Secord is either a hazy childhood memory or just getting sucked in by the idea of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee working together on another series.  Luckily, what readers seeing Cargo of Doom #1 with fresh eyes will discover is a comic that will make them want to check out everything else in the franchise, it’s just that good.

What’s most interesting is how it fits in with Waid’s other current work.  Daredevil (currently featuring art by Cargo of Doom artist Chris Samnee) is a (successful) attempt at creating an iconic modern version of Matt Murdock, and its artists have been the kind who can blend a classic or nostalgic aesthetic with genuinely modern, innovative storytelling.  With Thrillbent, Waid’s new digital publishing initiative, and its flagship series Insufferable, he’s pushing the medium forward into a digital era that’s not defined by .pdf  files of pages.  By comparison, Rocketeer isn’t as experimental as Insufferable or as modernly classic as Daredevil is; it is, however, pure nostalgia, a love letter to not just the title character, but an entire former age of mass entertainment.

With Chris Samnee delivering nuanced art that creates a different response than his work on Daredevil.  Instead, it feels more like his work on Captain America and Bucky; evocative of a past era.  Of course, he’s also helped out by Jordie Bellaire, who’s making a name for herself as one of the best colourists in the business.  With Bellaire and Samnee’s art and the great dialogue from Waid, the punches feel larger, the danger feels realer and the aerial adventures are more pulse-racing.  By the end of the issue, I feel like I’m caught up with Cliff Secord and already looking forward to the next slice of his latest tale.  Combined with horror suspense and romantic comedy, it’s a smorgasbord of several old pulp traditions that comes together as something nostalgic but unmistakably new.

This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcast week.

Um, Actually… | August 23rd, 2012

Welcome to the Como Murder Palace

Um, Actually…

Missives from and to the internet, delivered by a series of tubes.

Welcome, dear readers, to our Thursday feature – a letter column of horrors culled from our inboxes. There will be things that are real and decidedly unreal – but hopefully all content presented here will be entertaining.

That said, WE ARE LOOKING FOR LETTERS! We are hiding in your bushes, metaphorical or otherwise. We crave your sweet correspondence. Contact us by clicking on that handy contact button right above the site banner to save yourself from our sweet lips on your power bills.

Letters might be edited for space, but not for intent.

Thank you, internet.

———-

Ryan (@rocketmunkey) asks: What is your favourite fruit flavoring?

James: All time?  I’ve gotta go with watermelon. Here’s the thing, though: I know that watermelon flavouring tastes nothing like watermelon in the slightest bit, which you would think would bug me, considering that the watermelon is one of my favourite foods.  At best, you can say that watermelon flavouring tastes “pink,” just like cherry, strawberry and raspberry (when it hasn’t been turned blue for heterogeneity reasons) taste “red” and nothing else.  Luckily, however, I love pink.  Plus, at least it’s not another candy that tastes “red.”  Or, uh… “orange.”  Wait, that doesn’t work.

I’m also a fan of lemon-flavoured anything, so it always shocks me when people refuse to eat their lemon-flavoured candies.

Brandon: Blue! Or cherry Jolly Ranchers – but that only applies to Jolly Ranchers.

———-

Ryan continues: When humans start colonizing Mars, will you sign up immediately or remain lame Earthers?

James: Whoa there, buddy, what with your leading question and all.  This is a much more complicated issue than you make it seem.  First, there are logistical issues (infrastructure, standard of living) on Mars, not to mention the question of what things on Earth are still like.  In this situation, have scientists figured out a way to prevent the crippling bone density loss that traveling that long without gravity would cause?

Plus, there’s just the issue of the fact that I *like* Earth.  I like the mountains, prairies, forests and especially the ocean.  Those are all pretty Earth-y things (barring terraforming that would damage Mars’ natural beauty), and I think I would miss them.  I know I’d miss the ocean even more than I miss it in my day-to-day life.

Finally, there’s the issue of who else is going.  I don’t think I want to go to Mars if Brandon or my family aren’t going.  After all, who would I slander then?

Brandon: I think I’d stick with Earth. For one, I make comic shop money, which is to say, not a lot. I’m gonna be happy when I can swing a proper house that I own, let alone heading up to Mars. But also: Earth is where the comics live! The only reason why I’d head up to Mars would be for visits, or to see Sparks Nevada. Who would be the marshal, of course. 

———-

Brittanie (@britl) asks: Why can’t we have nice things?

James: We actually have lots of nice things, Brittany.  We’re inundated by them!  The problem is just that you’re wrong about so many of them.

Brandon: Look, I’m trying to train James but LOOK AT THAT WIDDLE FACE. YOU try to discipline that face. Ladies.

———-

Brittina continues: Are you guys excited for the return of Doctor Who?

James: As previously established, heck yes!  Also, I know that you know I’m excited because I invited you to another Doctor Who party at my home on the night of the premiere, and I generally only throw parties for things I am excited about (to date: Doctor Who, Casanova, eating pulled pork).

I think the real question is, since Brandon met his lovely girlfriend at my last Doctor Who party, who will be the lucky two (or three plus; hey, I’m not judgin’) people to make a love connection this year?  Will it be you?

You can’t tell, but I’m gesturing at the audience right now.

Brandon: It’s gonna be less Doctor Who and more like Doctor YOU AND ME AMIRITE. Or no wait, that doesn’t work at all. Let me try that again. Doctor WHO? More like Doctor WHERE HOW ABOUT MY PLACE AMIRITE?

Ha. Nailed it.

———-

Jay (@jayrunham) asks: Are you excited by the upcoming onslaught of Pixar sequels?

James: Whoa there Jay, have you met Ryan?  You and he might get along together, since you two love leading questions so much!  

As a general rule, I’m excited about every movie Pixar makes.  While I haven’t yet seen A Bug’s Life for reasons that I can only describe as crippling laziness, I’m still gonna say it: they haven’t made a bad movie.  Even Cars 2, which followed up on the criminally underappreciated Cars, was a good movie that had a lot of genuine emotion to offer.  The problem was, the Cars movies are the ones from Pixar that are the least directed to a wide audience and are mostly directed to kids (their opposite is Ratatouille, which I maintain was the first Pixar movie to be aimed primarily at adults), so it’s hard for a lot of adults to appreciate them, even though there are legions of kids ready to show us how.

As for the “onslaught,” it’s really just two movies: Monsters University (the sequel to Monsters Inc) and Finding Nemo 2 (which I think is a sequel to Chinatown or something).  While a Toy Story 4 is rumoured, it’s only been “announced” by Tom Hanks so far and not officially, so it could still go either way.  Meanwhile, there are three non-sequel Pixar movies coming up in the next five years: The Good Dinosaur, a movie about La Dia de los Muertos and a movie exploring “the inside of a girl’s mind.”  Two or three sequels isn’t really an onslaught, especially when it makes up half at most of the studio’s upcoming releases, which only come out one per year anyway.  There are more than enough non-sequel Pixar movies in the pipeline.

Plus, if they can do sequels as heartfelt and excellent as the Toy Story ones, these likely won’t be anything to scoff at either.  Pixar has generally made a career out of proving doubters wrong, so I’m not about to become one now.

Brandon: Yeah, PIXAR is one of those companies with whom I have an open wallet policy with. Love all of their movies, and looking forward to everything they have coming up.

———-

Jay continues: What’s your favourite acronym?

James: Mine is SMERSH (SMERt’ SHpionam” (СМЕРтьШпионам, Směrt Špionam), meaning “Death to Spies”), which was a real Soviet agency but also one that Ian Fleming took extreme creative liberties with to come up with some of the best James Bond stories.

And I’m just guessing Brandon’s is NAMBLA.

Brandon: James is lying to you. His favourite acronym is YOLO. 

———-

Cody (@codyfschmidt) asks: How great would a Gravity Falls comic be?  Super great, right?

James: Cody, it would be super amazing fantastique.  I would be nervous about some of the visual timing gags coming off well in a different medium, but with the success Boom! Studios have had adapting Adventure Time and, previously, Disney cartoons (not to mention the iconic comics by luminary Carl Barks), I think it could be done well with the right creative team.

And who better to write it than Brandon and I?  That’s right, I’m officially announcing our intention to campaign to become the writing team behind a new Gravity Falls comic put out by Marvel.  Who else are you gonna get, the Gravity Falls Gossiper boys?  Pfft.  Leave them to their successful rap and cartooning careersooooohshit.

Okay, new plan: Brandon and I write the comic, Chris Haley draws it.  Call me, Marvel!

Brandon: Man, that would be the swankest job ever! Think Disney will let us do that oh no wait I forgot about our the contents of our twitter accounts. :(

———-

Scott (@scottowilliams) asks: What comics, past or present, stand out to you as having memorable or enjoyable dialogue?

James: What generally stands out to me is idiosyncratic dialogue, and for that, there’s almost no better recent example than Kieron Gillen and his scripts for Journey Into Mystery.  They have a feel that, to me, is a lot less like Gillen‘s other work for Marvel, like Uncanny X-Men, and instead feel more like his work on Phonogram.  There’s a sense of grandeur to them, but also this little internal backlash against the idea of grandeur or “importance;” Kid Loki, while in these very giant, important settings, is always kind of picking away at them with humour, and other characters are constantly picking away from him.  The result is at once a lot like iconic Thor dialogue of old, but with a self-referential side to it that can’t help but wink.  The result, to me, is one of the most unique comics out there, and I’ll be sad to this incarnation of it go.  But hey, Kathryn Immonen!  She’s got a unique touch with words, too!  Read Heralds or Patsy Walker: Hellcat to find out.

Gillen‘s short-lived S.W.O.R.D. series also stands out to me years later, as does the entirety of Casanova, but that’s always kind of just on background in my mind anyway.

Brandon: Again, James has pulled out a few that I still adore. I would also go with the Brian K. Vaughan-penned Runaways stuff (and the Immonen run) aaaaand The Homeless Channel – a great Sorkin-esque graphic novel about running a TV station about homeless people.

———-

Scott goes on: While we’re at it, what are some comics with particularly memorable or iconic settings?

James: To be completely honest, I think in terms of really broad strokes here.  Gotham City is such an iconic setting that I feel like it exists in my mind.  I feel like I’ve seen New York from its highest vantage points because I’ve loved Spider-Man for so long.  However, when it comes down to it, there’s one setting in comics that has always been iconic above all others to me and probably always will be:

The Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.

Even though it’s been torn down and rebuilt (and recently, renamed) so many times it’s hard to count, when I think of comics settings, the Xavier school is what comes to mind.  As a kid who was never the most popular at school and didn’t always enjoy it (though it certainly wasn’t the hell it is for others), the Xavier school was what I imagined when I thought of the perfect school.  Brick.  Ivy.  Hard light projections in a simulated combat setting.  Baseball (with a certain amount of power-related cheating, of course).  And, above all else, a place where kids who were different could all hang out, come into their own identities and live safely, with only occasional attempted genocide.  It is no exaggeration that, when I was 10 and reading over the Official Guide to the X-Men, the parts that were the most interesting to me were the parts about the school.  I wanted to be a student there.  I still kinda do.  At their best, comics create these larger-than-life settings that stick with you your whole life.  Twenty years after I first saw it, the Xavier school is still stuck in my mind.

Brandon: Opal City in Starman gets a vote from me. Very deliberately art deco with a fantastic atmosphere. 

———-

Scott strokes out: What are you going to do with all that junk?  (All that junk inside your trunk?)

James: Honestly, I’m probably just gonna leave it there.  At this point, getting rid of old bike wheels, books and empty car fluid containers is more effort than I’m willing to expend.  

That’s right, ladies!  All this could be yours!

Brandon: DVDs! Seriously, this mah’fuckin’ truck Danica and I bought is now filled to the brim with DVDs.

———-

Scott wraps up, on his way to renew his AIDS medication prescriptions: Why does Fonda refuse to put a motor in the back of her Honda?

James: I think because, when not making life hell for Will McAvoy, she’s too busy rollin’ dirty in her Swagger Wagon:

When will the bloodshed end?  When will this East vs… uh… East hip hop war end?  Won’t someone think of the children that isn’t Brandon and on a watch list?

Brandon: Fonda like Jane, cracker like Turner. (What whaaaaaaaat)

———-

That’s it for the twenty-second installment of Um, Actually!  Check in every Thursday for a new batch of questions.  If you have anything you’d like answered, hit up our Contact page!  If you submit anything via Twitter – to @blogaboutcomics@leask or @soupytoasterson – remember to include the hashtag #UMACTUALLY so that we don’t lose it.  Remember: you can ask us anything.

Podcast! The Comics, Episode 34 – Ruck the Boat

We're trouble.

What would Wednesday be without a new episode of Podcast! The Comics?  Probably the day you committed suicide, that’s what.  Not to talk ourselves up or anything.

This episode is brought to you by Wizard’s Comics, home of the best deal on comics in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Check out their website for a list of the week’s new releases and information on upcoming Magic, The Gathering tournaments, and watch their Twitter account for news and announcements about the shop and its wares

Episode 34 – Ruck the Boat

This week, the boys catch up on some of their favourite TV shows, including Gravity Falls and Bunheads, and expound upon their desire to have Alan Ruck come visit them.  After talking about some comics they loved, they move on to the issue of professionaism amongst comics industry professionals and why insulting other people comes off as tacky.

Download the episode here or subscribe through iTunes.  If you want to subscribe the old-fashioned way, insert the following text into your audio program of choice (in iTunes, click “Advanced,” then click “Subscribe to Podcast”):

http://comicstheblog.libsyn.com/rss

You can also find all the episodes to date on Libsyn’s site here.

As always, check us out on on Twitter at @blogaboutcomics@leask & @soupytoasterson!

Speed Me Deadly: Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 6

I'm sure everything will work out for everyone!

[Ed. Note: Our friend, author and lapjacking enthusiast Andrea Speed, loves Breaking Bad.  In fact, she loves it so much that her enthusiasm convinced James to watch it, and now he’s a much sadder person because he watched it all over two weeks and has now realized how tenuous all of this life actually is.  Thanks, Andy!  So when Andy asked us if we’d want to publish her episode-by-episode thoughts on the show’s final season (the first half of which started airing on Sunday), we jumped at the chance. Son, you’d best believe there are spoilers.]

Breaking Bad, Episode 506 – Buyout

Oh, this isn’t going to end well. Actually, we already have some idea of this, thanks to the season opening flash forward, but tonight, Walt put his cards on the table, and explained why he’s such a complete frickin’ maniac. The fact that he used this truth as part of his continued manipulation of Jesse is just another infuriating piece of the puzzle.

The opening sequence is just right, an almost surreal, wordless piece where Todd, Walt, and Mike methodically dismantle the dead boy’s dirt bike and place it in a barrel, where they dissolve it in acid. Then, of course, comes the boy himself, and Walt at least has the shred of decency to look troubled by the prospect. Where’s Jesse? Outside smoking and fuming, which is made worse when Todd comes out after it’s all done, on a smoke break himself, and attempts to connect with Jesse. This gets Todd a punch in the face. (Oh, I was glad for that.)

But this is the beginning of the end. While they decide to keep Todd within the group – on a very short, Mike directed leash – just like I feared, Jesse is at the end of his rope. Even though Walt tries to reassure him they need to keep making meth and get their money, and stick around to prevent this sort of thing, Jesse can’t help but notice how craven that is. All Walt cares about is money. A news report on the missing boy just inflames Jesse’s guilt.

Mike, for his part, has continued DEA problems. He knows they’re on him like white on rice, and leaves a nice little note for them at a dead drop, that starts with F and ends with U. The situation is untenable. He really doesn’t have a choice in the matter. If he doesn’t want to sabotage their whole venture and give the game away, he needs to get out of the meth business. Walt accepts this well, as he wants to see the last of Mike, but then Jesse drops his bomb: he’s out too. He can’t take another dead person on his conscience, so he’s cashing in. Mike has a plan to sell his and Jesse’s portion of the methylamine so they have a little “retirement” money.

But it’s not as easy as Mike hoped. The man who might want the methylamine, an old Fring rival in Phoenix, will only buy the methylamine if he is assured that the blue meth is also off the market. This is a dilemma. Jesse goes to talk Walt into “retiring” along with them, which leads Walt to the very revealing story about Gray Matter, and to a bizarre dinner scene between Jesse, Skyler, and Walt, that functions as a sort of an update of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. It was so uncomfortable I couldn’t help but laugh, especially as Jesse tried to fill the uncomfortable silence first with compliments on the food, then with a riff about how terrible frozen lasagna is. That poor bastard. But Walt used this supremely awkward scene between him and Skyler to twist the guilt knife on Jesse even more.

Mike is determined not to be screwed out of this by Walt’s recalcitrance, so he secures him to the radiator with a plastic tie, and then leaves to meet with Saul and play his last card. What that card is is a restraining order against the DEA, which Saul knows won’t stand long, but will buy Mike time to sell the methylamine and wash his hands of the business once and for all. But what Mike didn’t count on was Walt’s determination to not settle, even if that meant badly burning his wrist in the process. And playing the guilt card on Jesse clearly worked – does it ever not work? – because Jesse is there to convince Mike not to shoot Walt in the head. Walt’s last line, “Everybody wins,” seems as much a threat as a promise. And it kind of is, really. Because Walt is determined to build his empire, and he will destroy whoever stands in his way, even if they are his compatriots.

Andy’s Line From The Episode: I’m so tempted by Jesse’s “Oh, thank God,” when Walt told him his children weren’t home, because it really made me laugh. It was genuine relief. Actually, can I just nominate the entire dinner sequence? From Jesse’s praising of the green beans (which led to Skyler telling him she got them from the deli at Albertson’s, leading to the sad, “Yep, that’s how mom used to make them too,” ) to Skyler’s brutally casual “Did he tell you about my affair too?”  It was a nightmare of awkwardness that I still found funny, until Walt played the guilt card, making Jesse feel bad about taking away the only thing Walt had left. It said a lot about these characters, and made we want to see the cast do a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf revival, especially if done as their Breaking  Bad characters. I bet it’s the only revival of the play that ends in murder-suicide. (A close second? Saul telling Hank and Gomez about the restraining order, and afterwards in the car with Mike. Because just about everything Saul says is gold.)

You Read These With Your Eyes! | August 22nd, 2012

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary. 

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #692 (Marvel Comics)

It’s finally here, people!  The 50th Anniversary issue of Amazing Spider-Man is here!  Half a century into his life, Peter Parker is still going strong and Issue #692 is dead set on proving it.

This is an anniversary issue very much in the spirit of Fantastic Four #600 from last year; while full of back-up stories from great creators like Joshua Hale Fialkov, it’s also got an integral main story, one that pushes forward Peter’s story while celebrating his past.

Issue #692 introduces Alpha, a teen sidekick for Spider-Man.  And while that may make some of you groan, the way in which Dan Slott is doing it, like the recent “No Turning Back” story, is simultaneously something old and new.  The idea of a teen sidekick for Peter, is certainly new, but the execution of it is something that mirror’s Peter’s own origin as a fellow teenager gifted with extraordinary powers and a need to use them.  But like Peter was responsible for the events that caused his Uncle Ben’s death, he feels similarly responsible for Alpha’s origin, and he sets out to be something he never had: a mentor.

That’s the part I’m most interested in seeing.  The Avengers Academy crossover showed that Peter as a teacher to young superheroes could work, but there were no ongoing stakes involved; he was a substitute teacher.  With Alpha, Peter gets to try out a truly new role for himself: that of Uncle Ben.

What better way to celebrate the history of the character and the nature of the medium than that?  It would be easy to have a Spider-Man: Blue-esque story of flashbacks and narration, revisiting moments in Peter’s past.  Amazing Spider-Man #655 from last year showed that not only can you still revisit Peter’s past, but you can still generate incredible emotion from it.  But even that moved forward an entire year of Spider-Man stories.  What’s special about Slott‘s run is that it loves the history of the character but never tries to generate new ideas.  And for the House of Ideas, what is an anniversary better for than a new beginning?

ARCHIE #636 (Archie Comics)

One of the most consistently impressive things about Archie Comics is how they’re able to consistently tell new, entertaining stories despite the fact that the characters have been around for as long as 70 years.  With a cast so old that they’ve actually become archetypes in their own right, it’s great to see characters like Kevin Keller and series like Life With Archie.  But more than that, it’s great to see the company doing interesting things across the board in all its series, whether it’s “Occupy Riverdale” (somehow one of the more cogent discussions of the issue I’ve seen in the last year), last week’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer spoof in Betty & Veronica or the fact that this week’s Archie issue is a story about how everybody in Riverdale gets gender-flipped in a story that probably legitimizes at least three dozen fanfiction stories out there.

Yes, you are absolutely correct in what you’re thinking right now.  Archie #636 literally out-internets the internet.

Basically, the issue starts quite simply, with Riverdale’s boys and girls arguing about which gender has it harder.  You know, like ya do.  Then, in an effort to be an outrageous dick have some innocent fun, Sabrina’s cat Salem decides to give everybody a taste of their own medicine and Freaky Friday their butts.

It is impossible to overstate how much I have been looking forward to this.  With great art by Gisele, the issue looks great while being both familiar and just slightly “off” enough to heighten the sense of other-worldliness, this really isn’t a comic you want to miss, if only to find out that yes, Archie is still completely unfair to both Veronica and Betty even when they’re Archina, Billy and Ronnie.  The more things change, people.

THE BEST OF ARCHIE COMICS BOOK TWO (Archie Comics)

Stop right here, everyone!  You have found the BEST DEAL OF THE WEEK.

You might remember the original Best of Archie Comics from last year.  Over 400 pages.  Introductions and explanations for a selection of the publisher’s greatest stories spanning 70 years.  Full credits for the creators of iconic characters – better late than never.  And all for the insanely low price of $10.

Well, it’s back.

Because of course it’s back.  The best of Archie Comics can’t just be contained by 400 pages, just like there isn’t one “Best Of” collection for other comic icons like Batman or Spider-Man.  And thus, a year later, a second volume has arrived.

Truth be told, you might have read some of these stories before.  We all had truckloads of double digests as kids and in my family’s case, they basically came home in plastic grocery bags from the used book store and quickly went back, to be replaced with more, so a lot of the stories bled together.  The Best of Archie series remedies that, by condensing all of those amazing stories from the decades into manageable and affordable digests, and there’s really no reason you shouldn’t pick this up.  If you can think of even one Archie story you liked, just one fond memory, you’ll be able to either find it or make a dozen more like it with this book.

CAPTAIN AMERICA & NAMOR #635.1 (Marvel Comics)

Long after Ed Brubaker stepped away from Captain America & Bucky, the series has maintained a vibrant life of its own.  A big part of the credit for this goes to the creators, including writer Cullen Bunn, who is proving himself to be a worthy successor to one of the greatest Captain America writers of all time.  Another big part of it, however, goes to the editorial team for creating a book that’s a lot like Avenging Spider-Man or Marvel Team-Up in how it gives a big open page for the creators, and for letting Bunn and his artists play with the whole of Captain America’s history.

It’s hard to imagine the regular Captain America book having an entire story that takes place in World War II as Cap and Namor fight occult Nazis and a kraken.  It plays with Cap’s history, but generally in a more modern setting.  The Captain America and… series is then free to make things as big and crazy as a summer blockbuster movie and focus on a different part of the character.  It drives home how big the Marvel Universe is and why there’s so much possibility in it.  It also has Nazis with giant squids and secret societies, which I can’t even pretend isn’t a big selling point.

(Plus, colours by Team Casanova member Cris Peter!)

PUNISHER #14 (DC Comics)

With every month, The Punisher just gets darker and darker.  For a series that is already about a man haunted by loss to the point that he’s become a mass-murdering vigilante never able to see past his ongoing grief (even if he tells himself otherwise), this is a hard thing to do.  Greg Rucka has found a way, however:

He made himself a new Punisher.

Of course, Frank Castle is still there.  At this point, he’s a terrifying constant in the Marvel Universe, always tiptoeing towards the line of acceptability among the world’s heroes (at least until Rucka‘s Punisher: War Zone in October).  There’s little real emotion to carve from him at this point, but Rucka and his artists have found the corollary in that: if Frank is a constant, how does that affect the variables – the people – around him?  With Marine Sargeant Rachel Cole-Alves, they’ve found an emotionally resonant version of the Punisher by finding her earlier in her timeline than Frank is now.  There’s still room for Rachel to avoid becoming Frank, and for a while, it looked like she was going to.  After the previous two issues, however, her jumping-off point looks even smaller in the rear-view mirror, and the series now carries a lingering sense of dread and tragedy.  We still remember when Rachel was truly trying to do the right thing, and that sense of fresh loss is that drives the series’ emotion.  Is there still a happy ending for her?  Or are there only different types of bad ones, where she either dies or keeps on her path?  With this week’s issue, we’ll get closer to finding out… if we’re up to it.

Frank Castle is never going to be a hero.  By understanding that, the team working on The Punisher have found a way to make the series and the character more vital than they ever have been.  Most of us have long since stopped caring about Frank as a person, but with every month, these creators make us care more and more about this world.

[Also, buy Scalped #60!  It’s the series’ final issue and, while I haven’t actually read the series, if you have been, this is something you don’t want to miss.]

These are five of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.